Recently you reached out to the Research Hub as a partner to conduct an evaluation of the Surrey Early Learning for Families (ELF) Drop-in Program at Surrey City Shopping Centre. Can you tell us more about this?
This play-based early learning program is similar to the popular Strong Start program offered in many elementary schools and community centers in the Lower Mainland but is unique in that it is held as a pop-up program at the Surrey City Shopping Centre through a collaboration between the Shopping Centre, the Surrey School District, and SFU. The reason for offering the ELF program in this format is to increase access to early learning. Since early Learning programming mostly operates out of schools, the result is that Early Learning programs are not available to families who, for whatever reason, are not yet engaging with the school system in schools. Modeled after existing Early Learning initiatives, this program brings Early Learning activities out of the schools and into the public arena, allowing an engagement with brand new and underserved demographics.
The Surrey ELF drop-in program has been running since 2013 and has grown significantly in popularity. Approximately 2 years ago through a conversation with one of the program facilitators, we realized that the benefits of ELF may be extending beyond our initial expectations of early learning outcomes. We concluded that it would be valuable to look further and deeper into the impact the program was having in the community. This is when I reached out to Dr. Cindy Xin, the Director of Research for the Faculty of Education’s Research Hub to explore conducting an evaluation for the program.
Over the past six months, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Cindy and a Research Assistant from her team, Bronwen McCann, to design an evaluation and develop a report that will be very informative to all the key stakeholders of the program.
What are your thoughts on community-based research as a means for the university to engage with community?
I think community-based research is a powerful way for the university and community to work together on addressing the complex challenges our society is facing in the 21st century. Bringing together the strengths and assets of the academy and community in ways that enable the co-creation of knowledge, I think, has the potential to create lasting and meaningful change on issues that matter to us all. This kind of work has been happening at SFU for many years in different pockets of the institution; however, currently the community relies on their personal connections with individuals within SFU to navigate the university and move forward on ideas and opportunities for research. That is one of the reasons why I thought the evaluative work with the Faculty of Education’s Research Hub on the ELF program was so exciting - it points to a growing institutional appetite for more structured processes to facilitate community-engaged research in more intentional ways.
Personally I am also very passionate about this topic. My Master’s thesis work was on principle-based ways of evaluating community engagement at the institutional level. As SFU moves forward with this work, I look forward to seeing how shared foundational values and principles that guide the process of our work with communities affects the outcomes we hope to achieve from these endeavors.
I am very much looking forward to exploring future opportunities to collaborate on community-based research with the Faculty of Education’s Research Hub.